Symantec logo
I/O fencing

I/O fencing is a mechanism to prevent uncoordinated access to the shared storage. This feature works even in the case of faulty cluster communications causing a split-brain condition.

Understanding Split Brain and the need for I/O fencing

To provide high availability, the cluster must be capable of taking corrective action when a node fails. In this situation, SF Oracle RAC configures its components to reflect the altered membership.

Problems arise when the mechanism that detects the failure breaks down because symptoms appear identical to those of a failed node. For example, if a system in a two-node cluster fails, the system stops sending heartbeats over the private interconnects and the remaining node takes corrective action. However, the failure of private interconnects (instead of the actual nodes) would present identical symptoms and cause each node to determine its peer has departed. This situation typically results in data corruption because both nodes attempt to take control of data storage in an uncoordinated manner.

In addition to a broken set of private networks, other scenarios can generate this situation. If a system is so busy that it appears to stop responding or "hang," the other nodes could declare it as dead. This declaration may also occur for nodes using hardware that supports a "break" and "resume" function. When a node drops to PROM level with a break and subsequently resumes operations, the other nodes may declare the system dead even though the system later returns and begins write operations.

SF Oracle RAC uses a technology called I/O fencing to remove the risk associated with split brain. I/O fencing allows write access for members of the active cluster and blocks access to storage from non-members; even a node that is alive is unable to cause damage.

SCSI-3 Persistent Reservations

SCSI-3 Persistent Reservations (SCSI-3 PR) are required for I/O fencing and resolve the issues of using SCSI reservations in a clustered SAN environment. SCSI-3 PR enables access for multiple nodes to a device and simultaneously blocks access for other nodes.

SCSI-3 reservations are persistent across SCSI bus resets and support multiple paths from a host to a disk. In contrast, only one host can use SCSI-2 reservations with one path. If the need arises to block access to a device because of data integrity concerns, only one host and one path remain active. The requirements for larger clusters, with multiple nodes reading and writing to storage in a controlled manner, make SCSI-2 reservations obsolete.

SCSI-3 PR uses a concept of registration and reservation. Each system registers its own "key" with a SCSI-3 device. Multiple systems registering keys form a membership and establish a reservation, typically set to "Write Exclusive Registrants Only." The WERO setting enables only registered systems to perform write operations. For a given disk, only one reservation can exist amidst numerous registrations.

With SCSI-3 PR technology, blocking write access is as simple as removing a registration from a device. Only registered members can "eject" the registration of another member. A member wishing to eject another member issues a "preempt and abort" command. Ejecting a node is final and atomic; an ejected node cannot eject another node. In SF Oracle RAC, a node registers the same key for all paths to the device. A single preempt and abort command ejects a node from all paths to the storage device.

Components of I/O fencing

Fencing in SF Oracle RAC involves coordinator disks and data disks. Each component has a unique purpose and uses different physical disk devices. The fencing driver, known as vxfen, directs CVM as necessary to carry out actual fencing operations at the disk group level.

Data disks

Data disks are standard disk devices for data storage and are either physical disks or RAID Logical Units (LUNs). These disks must support SCSI-3 PR and are part of standard VxVM or CVM disk groups.

CVM is responsible for fencing data disks on a disk group basis. Disks added to a disk group are automatically fenced, as are new paths discovered to a device.

Coordinator disks

Coordinator disks are three standard disks or LUNs set aside for I/O fencing during cluster reconfiguration. Coordinator disks do not serve any other storage purpose in the SF Oracle RAC configuration. Users cannot store data on these disks or include the disks in a disk group for user data. The coordinator disks can be any three disks that support SCSI-3 PR. Coordinator disks cannot be special devices that array vendors use. For example, you cannot use EMC gatekeeper devices as coordinator disks.

Symantec recommends using the smallest possible LUNs for coordinator disks. Because coordinator disks do not store any data, cluster nodes need only register with them and do not need to reserve them.

These disks provide a lock mechanism to determine which nodes get to fence off data drives from other nodes. A node must eject a peer from the coordinator disks before it can fence the peer from the data drives. This concept of racing for control of the coordinator disks to gain the ability to fence data disks is key to understanding prevention of split brain through fencing.

Dynamic Multipathing devices with I/O fencing

DMP allows coordinator disks to take advantage of the path failover and the dynamic adding and removal capabilities of DMP. You can configure coordinator disks to use Veritas Volume Manager Dynamic Multipathing (DMP) feature. Veritas Volume Manager DMP uses the ASL model for communicating with storage. As a result, DMP can discover devices and failover paths, and can issue other SCSI commands suitable for the unique characteristics of each array.

For more information on using DMP, see the Veritas Volume Manager Administrator's Guide.

Also see Enabling fencing in the VCS configuration.

I/O fencing operations

I/O fencing, provided by the kernel-based fencing module (vxfen), performs identically on node failures and communications failures. When the fencing module on a node is informed of a change in cluster membership by the GAB module, it immediately begins the fencing operation. The node attempts to eject the key for departed nodes from the coordinator disks using the preempt and abort command. When the node successfully ejects the departed nodes from the coordinator disks, it ejects the departed nodes from the data disks. In a split brain scenario, both sides of the split would race for control of the coordinator disks. The side winning the majority of the coordinator disks wins the race and fences the loser. The loser then panics and reboots the system.

I/O fencing communication

The vxfen driver connects to GAB port b to intercept cluster membership changes (reconfiguration messages). During a membership change, the fencing driver determines which systems are members of the cluster to allow access to shared disks.

After completing fencing operations, the driver passes reconfiguration messages to higher modules. CVM handles fencing of data drives for shared disk groups. After a node successfully joins the GAB cluster and the driver determines that a preexisting split brain does not exist, CVM can import all shared disk groups. The CVM master coordinates the order of import and the key for each disk group. As each slave joins the cluster, it accepts the CVM list of disk groups and keys, and adds its proper digit to the first byte of the key. Each slave then registers the keys with all drives in the disk groups.

Additional SF Oracle RAC features include: